Never happy that Lou Barlow. But then again, what do you expect from a man who’s spent nearly two decades pouring his heart out onto vinyl? Mischievously, subconsciously or not, it finally seems that he’s attempting to reclaim a state of affairs – perhaps rather than a genre – that he basically made his own before all the pups with stroppy guitars jumped in.
The new album’s called ‘Emoh’ you see, and is more than a nod towards what he feels is a certain misappropriation of what emo boys should do; it’s all about the open heart surgery, rather than the thrashing hardcore-esque guitars, so Barlow on his new solo record settles back with an acoustic and barely anything else to show a lesser generation how it’s done.
For while ‘Emoh’ is a musically simple album, it’s also incredibly complex thematically and lyrically. Everything is smeared in odd analogy, story telling and half whispered truths.
On opener ‘Legendary’, Barlow kids himself to thinking that he doesn’t understand why his love has left, whilst actually dissecting exactly why, in fact, whoever it was did leave. Masks and charades: it’s a dichotomous, clever but ultimately heartbreaking track created around a guitar and thumped percussion. It’s that sort of record. The simple, sweet, beautiful ‘Puzzle’ intones “we were simply buried alive / trapped in a rapture, tied to the sky/ cuddled on the couch, tranquilized / then you left me / if only in your eyes”. Beat that, Dashboard… It’s an album highlight, full of poetically entwined lyrics and slow burning cello; the sweetest lament of total dazed, bitter, magical bewilderment. It finishes with “it’s been a long year this year / good or bad I can’t tell from here”. It’s that sort of record.
‘If I Could’ sees Barlow playing the simple man; the idiot savant of love over a thumping cardboard box drum in the catchiest of songs. Is it me? Is it you? He questions, whilst leaving enough in his vocals to answer it to everyone: It’s always you Lou, and you know it.
‘Emoh’ also sees a mix of acoustic styles. In addition to the classic Sebadoh spartan waltz, there’s the hymnal Simon & Garfunkel-esque ‘Morning After’ and ‘Round-n-Round’, the former also sounding like it’d fit perfectly in a Sergio Leone western. ‘Imagined Land’ returns to the confessional as Lou laments a fantasist life of happiness over a featherlite composition – “What the heart is wanting / this day may not allow… things that may not happen now”. It’s another ballad of knowingly false statement. Sweet deception. It’s that sort of record.
Yet ultimately, oddly, there’s a sense of happiness of sorts that runs through ‘Emoh’, a belief that Lou can only be Lou in times of strife and woe – the times that makes a man (or this man) truly who he is.
The bare bones of course, are the most revealing. ‘Emoh’ is revealing at all times, but utterly dignified throughout, and it’s a wonderful solo record.
8Michaela Annot's Score